The death of Heather the leather - Get a grip lads !

Regular readers of this column are going to start thinking I’m anti carp fishing. Which I’m not. I love fishing for them, especially in the summer and especially off the top.

Carping might not be my idea of angling nirvana, but I can think of worse things you can do with a rod. Like fly fishing. But I digress...

No, it’s the people that target them rather than the fish themselves I find myself having repeated issue with. Not all of them, of course, and not even the vast majority. It’s just those at the top end, the fanatics, the obsessives, the hard-core bivvy brigade, the men who seem to have a lost a complete grip on reality that I’m talking about.

Take this week, and the death of the  leather carp known as ‘Heather’, as an example. Notwithstanding the creature’s size - during its life it reached weights over 50lb - it was, ultimately, just a fish. Granted, a big one, but a fish none-the-less.

That fact, though, seems to have been lost among some of the carp fishing world. Lost in a tidal wave of tears and entirely misplaced grief.

Consider the language used on one forum to describe the passing of the Car Park Lake’s most famous resident.

“RIP beautiful,” said one. “Goodbye and God bless to the queen of British carp fishing,” added another.

It gets worse.

“I am still truly devastated, and the cider hasn’t even taken the edge off it,” wrote one more.

“Just got back from holiday, my mate text me while I was away and it ruined my week,” said another.

And these are just excerpts. This was a thread that ran for 20 pages. Twenty pages of condolence, sympathy, comfort and commiseration. For a fish. To the outside world, indeed to those outside this carp-shaped inner sanctum, it must look bizarre.

How, they’ll ask, can anglers mourn the death of a creature they once pursued and then use words more in keeping with a relative’s funeral? I can’t be the only one shielding my ears against the contradiction.

But in carping circles, this is nothing exceptional. The same outpouring of grief accompanies the death of many of these named creatures. In fact in some cases, it extends even further.

When a mirror known as Bazil died in 2001 regulars erected a gravestone in its honour. Yes, you read that correctly. A gravestone. Presumably to allow the grieving a chance to pay their last respects and to leave flowers - or maybe a packet of the deceased’s favourite boilies. A similar monument is currently being proposed for Heather.

Look, I can understand fishery owners being distraught at the death of a prized asset - when Benson, Bluebell Lakes’ famous common, went fins up, boss Tony Bridgefoot reckoned it would cost him £20k a year - but anglers less so.

These are the same people, remember, who employ an arsenal of state-of-the-art tackle and bait to assist in removing the subject of their desire from the comfort of its home. For nigh on 365 days a year, these carp are under constant angling pressure. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that process I take exception to - it’s the way these same anglers then shed tears when the fish die. It’s hypocrisy with a capital ‘H’.

Think about it. If, as the words and actions indicate, they really have such strength of feeling for the carp, why stick a hook in them in the first place?

These, I repeat, are fish. Big, coveted and desirable, but fish all the same. And the moment we forget that fact is the moment we tread on unsafe ground. By making these creatures, regardless of size, anything more than things with fins that are there for sport, we elevate them to something more than they are.

Aren’t, I would argue, we in danger of turning them into something akin to pets? Anthropomorphism - the process of giving animals human qualities - gives these fish a status they don’t deserve. They do not live in aquariums.

They are a wild, sporting quarry there to provide anglers with enjoyment and pleasure. When that becomes blurred we should all take a long, hard look at what fishing has become.

We’ve always defended angling on the basis that fish are essentially stupid creatures without either intelligence or the ability to feel pain. But by giving them names, creating characters and generally humanising our quarry, we undermine that argument, potentially giving ammunition to the antis.

Please, please, please let sanity be restored. And let the death of the next big carp pass without these embarrassing obituaries.